Backstage at the Egyptian: Interview with Amanda Nelson of the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Interview with Amanda Nelson
Conducted by Karina Palomo

Karina: Why is it important to give children an opportunity to see a live symphony orchestra?
Amanda: Children are the next generation of symphonic music listeners and supporters. If we don’t take the time to teach them that music is important, it will become a lost art.


Karina: How has KSO impacted your life?
Amanda: I have been around the KSO almost my entire life. I remember coming to concerts as a young child when I was just learning to play cello. After I graduated from college and moved back to the area, it was so exciting to get to perform with the symphony! When I was hired as the general manager, I felt like I could really make a difference in the community being a part of this organization. We are not just a community orchestra, we are an orchestra for the community. We are here to enrich and educate the community through music. If you aren’t familiar with the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra, you are missing out!


Karina: Have any children who have attend a previous KSO Children’s Concerts reached out to you or any other members to share how the performance inspired them to play an instrument?
Amanda: Absolutely! Besides working as general manager for the symphony, I am also a music teacher. I have had quite a few students over my years teaching that have been inspired to be in orchestra because of coming to the KSO Children’s concert while in elementary school.


Karina: How have you seen KSO Children’s Concerts make in a difference within the community?
Amanda: Sometimes coming to the KSO Children’s Concert is the very first time ever a child is experiencing a live music performance. We are not just teaching them about the instruments, the music, or how to act in a concert setting. We are sharing an art with them which will hopefully start the beginnings of life long music lovers!


Karina: Why should parents bring their children to the concert?
Amanda: Unfortunately, this concert is only open to school groups. Teachers should make every effort to make this field trip happen because coming to a symphony orchestra concert is a very unique experience not every child has the opportunity to do! Our concerts are fun, engaging, educational, and inspirational! If your school isn’t attending this year, please look into coming next year! If parents would like to bring their children to another concert, I would highly recommend coming to our Winter Wonderland concert on December 7th or 8th! You won’t be disappointed!  


Karina: What do you hope the children in the audience will take away from the concert?
Amanda: It would be awesome if coming to the KSO Children’s Concert sparked a child’s interest to play a musical instrument, but really, I hope all children walk away from our concert with a little bit deeper love and appreciation for music in general! These kids are the next generation of symphonic music listeners and supporters.

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Backstage at the Egyptian: Interview with Rick Johnson of The Chicago Authority

The Chicago Authority Interview with co-founder and lead guitarist, Rick Johnston
Conducted by Karina Palomo

Karina: When were you first introduced to Chicago’s music?
Rick: I was playing in a middle school rock band – typical for the time, two guitars, keyboard, bass and drums  – and we rehearsed in the keyboard player’s basement. One day he pulled the cellophane off a brand new album by this band called the Chicago Transit Authority and put it on the turntable. From the very first notes of the first song, “Introduction”, we all knew this was something really special. So much so that we immediately added horns to our little rock band. And we’ve all been fans since the first time we heard them.


Karina: What is your favorite aspect of performing in front of a live audience?
Rick: Seeing the smiles and seeing people enjoying themselves. I won’t say there isn’t a bit of ego involved when we finish a song and thousands of people are cheering for something that we did, but the most important thing for all of us is to make sure the audience has a good time and goes away happy and smiling.


Karina: Does the band have a certain song that they enjoy performing the most?
Rick: There are songs we like, and then there are songs we love. If I had to pick one song it would be Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon, the full 12-minute version of composer James Pankow’s suite that includes the hit songs Make Me Smile and Colour My World. It is a brilliantly crafted piece of music, it’s fun and challenging to play, and from an audience standpoint it has something for everyone. Fans can hear the hit songs. People who are familiar with the deep cuts appreciate the fact that we aren’t playing “just the hits”. Musicians can hear some tight vocal harmonies, a really challenging guitar solo, great horn arrangements, trumpet, trombone, flute, and drum solos … it’s just an amazing piece of music.


Karina: What makes The Chicago Authority the best Chicago tribute band in the world?
Rick: (laughs) The executive producer of a TV show we appeared on called us that, and with all of the bands out there performing this music, he set the bar pretty high for us. It’s a lot to try and live up to. We work hard at it, though. You have to in order to even play some of the more challenging tunes. We rehearse pretty much every week, and the focus is on attention to details, to get it right, and to duplicate the sound and mimic the stage look of the original band. The horns are front and center, not hidden off to the side behind music stands. There’s a lot going on during our show. A lot of movement, interaction, and energy. We’re told we look like we’re having fun, and in reality we’re having and absolute blast. That’s contagious, I think, and the audience picks up on that high-energy good time and gives it back tenfold.


Karina:What can the audience expect from the show?
Rick: Again, it’s a high-energy good time from start to finish. We take a short break in the middle to let everyone catch their breath, and then it’s right back atcha. We play the hits, we sprinkle in a few deep cuts, we let the guys open up a bit during featured solos … and like I said, we have an absolute blast.


Karina: What advice would you give a new musician who is trying to master their talent?
Rick: I could go with the cliché practice, practice, practice, and while that holds true I think that listening to what other people are doing is just as important. And I don’t mean in any one genre of music. If all you listen to is, say, metal, you’ll be very good metal player but you won’t be a well-rounded musician. I was very fortunate to have parents who understood not only the importance of introducing me to music and lessons when I was seven, but they also exposed me to different styles of music. I was listening to big band, pop, jazz, blues, R&B, classical … and later rock & roll, progressive rock, funk, disco, country, punk. Today I’m still listening and learning – hip-hop, metal, Americana, and basically as much as I can get my hands on. Or my ears on. I think that, in addition to practicing and taking lessons from a good instructor, is what allows someone to develop a mastery of the craft.


Karina: Do any of the band members get stage fright before a show? If so, how do they deal with it?
Rick: We were just talking about that before our show last week. It’s not really stage fright – it’s nervous energy because we want the show to be great. Until the first few notes of the first song start gelling I think we’re all very nervous, and then a few bars into the song there’s this huge release of energy. Backstage before the show, the guys all handle it differently. I move around to try and burn off some of the nervous energy. Another will sit off by himself and reflect, pre-playing the show in his mind. A couple of the guys crack jokes. We all gather a few minutes before hitting the stage and form what we call a Circle of Trust just so we can sync up with each other. It bonds us, and it puts us all on the same page for the show.

The Chicago Authority will be at the Egyptian Theatre on Saturday, November 10 at 7:30 PM!

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Backstage at the Egyptian: Interview with Ben Cooley of The Simon & Garfunkel Story

Interview with Benjamin Cooley
Conducted by Karina Palomo

Karina: What do you enjoy the most about telling the story of Simon and Garfunkel?
Ben:  Well, as we tell the story of their lives we pair it with what was going on in the world at that time. So you get to hear the songs and see how they correlated with what was going on at that time which I think is cool.


Karina: The show has performed all over the world, how does it feel to be able to share the story of Simon and Garfunkel with over 1/4 million people?
Ben: It’s a crazy feeling. More specifically on this North American tour, it feels very special to be able to share this timeless American music with the American people.


Karina: What was the first song by Simon and Garfunkel that made you fall in love with their work?
Ben: Definitely Scarborough Fair. When I was a kid it was in one of my beginner piano books and it was probably one of the prettiest songs in there.


Karina: Why is the concert style theatre show the best way to convey Simon and Garfunkel’s story?
Ben: It’s the way Simon and Garfunkel performed! So you get the nostalgia mixed with multimedia storytelling in the background and it makes for an awesome combination.


Karina: What song do you enjoy performing the most?
Ben: Definitely The Boxer. By the time we get to this song the crowd is so into it. Also most of them have been waiting for this song since the beginning of the show! So their reaction every night when we start the song is awesome!


Karina: Where did your passion for performing live begin?
Ben: In middle School I started attending summer theatre programs, or sometimes strictly Choral music programs. From there I went to a performing arts high school, and eventually got a degree in musical theater from The Hartt School.


Karina: Do you have any rituals you do to get performance ready?
Ben: Mostly vocal rest! I do also use a steam inhaler before and after shows to make sure my vocal chords stay nice and hydrated.


The Simon & Garfunkel Story is at the Egyptian Theatre on Sunday, November 4 at 4 PM.

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Backstage at the Egyptian: Christian Hoff of The Midtown Men

Interview with Tony Award winner Christian Hoff of The Midtown Men
Conducted by Karina Palomo

Karina: What is the story behind the creation of The Midtown Men?  

Christian: The Midtown Men, rooted in making music to keep us focused and happy during our rocket ride beginnings in the original Jersey Boys, took an independent journey beyond what we thought possible.


Karina: Why do you enjoy performing songs from the 60s?

Christian: Celebrating the best of the Sixties era came naturally. Our incredible launch as a new group, after bringing to life the story and music of Frankie Valli and Four Seasons keep us rooted in the music and culture still.


Karina: The Midtown Med is a high-octane musical group, how do you keep your singing voice performance ready?

Christian: Hydration, professionalism and keeping our sense of humor onstage and off.


Karina: What was your experience as a Broadway actor?

Christian: Two hit Broadway shows bridging Rock and Roll and the great white way has been most unique and powerful combination I’m proud to carry with me with my Tony Award!


Karina: What do you enjoy most about performing in front of a live audience?

Christian: There’s somebody in the audience experiencing their very first or very last
show. It keeps you hyper-present when you’re distracted by anything at all.


Karina: How did you feel when you won the Tony Award?

Christian: Elated, respected and gratified to contribute to the show’s success while
fulfilling my own destiny as an entertainer.


Karina: What advice would give an actor trying to make their way to the Broadway stage?

Christian: Find your light by shining it on others.


The Midtown Men are at the Egyptian Theatre on Saturday, October 27 at 7:30 PM. Great seats are still available, so don’t miss it!

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Backstage at the Egyptian: Mike Santoro of The Stranger: A Tribute to Billy Joel

Interview with Mike Santoro of The Stranger: A Tribute to Billy Joel.

This show is coming to the Egyptian Theatre on Saturday, October 13 at 7:30 PM. Tickets are still available here:

Interview conducted by Karina Palomo

Karina: Where did your love for Billy Joel begin?

Mike: Growing up in suburbia, Levittown NY. I was about 10 years old, and my oldest sister (in her early teens) had great taste in music. I used to shuffle through her records and played The Stranger album beginning to end. When I learned that Billy Joel himself was born and raised just a few miles from me in Levittown, an instant hero was born in my world.

Karina: How did you learn to play the piano?

Mike:  I was a self taught drummer, and always loved piano but never really took it seriously until I was in my 20’s. Everything I know is learned by ear and muscle memory. It’s been the most challenging and the most rewarding thing for me. Billy has compared the piano to “a big Drosendorf dog with 88 teeth trying to bite my fingers off”. I can’t agree with him more!

Karina: What do you enjoy most about performing at historical theatres?

Mike: If the walls can talk! When playing in a historical theatre, I feel like I am literally living and being a part of its history, which truly gives me a deep appreciation for having this so called “job” that very few get to do professionally. It’s really nothing short of an honor, and such a thrill that while it’s happening I couldn’t quite put it into words. Right now, joy is a good word.

Karina: What is your favorite Billy Joel song to perform?

Mike: I’d probably have to say “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” because it’s his first “epic” song, it tells a story, it’s rich in both sound and meaning and it’s the most challenging to play. Plus our audiences always loves to hear it.

Karina:What can the audience expect from the show?

Mike:  FUN. The guys in the band really enjoy each other’s company on and off stage and it shows and it’s contagious. We’re fellow fans with the audience celebrating the music of the Billy Joel, so it’s a musical and personal journey that we all relate to. By the end of the show everyone doesn’t want it to end, it’s that much fun. Making great memories.

Karina: What are your fondest musical memories?

Mike: Without having to think about it, being with my late father in his Oldsmobile listening to him sing along to the songs on his AM radio and he’s encouraging me to sing out loud. I was a shy kid, still am in many ways. But I credit my dad, who was also a professional singer once upon a time, for his inspiration. He was a phenomenal tenor, and sounded A LOT like Frank Sinatra.

Karina:What advice would give to beginners who are nervous?

Mike:  I get nervous before every single show I’ve done to this day. It’s natural. Nerves are GREAT, and useful! So, I’d say to use that nervous energy, channel it, and turn it into your passion. Nothing great ever comes quick and easy. And it’s ok to make mistakes, just own it. Even someone like Billy Joel himself has had to fall many times in order to learn from his mistakes, and to have the drive to grow and cultivate his passion for songwriting and performing his music. And that’s why he is a legend, and why I get to do what I do.

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